Browsing through Flickr pages it is easy to fall in love with the overall aesthetic of the images from Fuji’s X series of cameras. So much so that when the XT-1 went on sale toward the end of 2015 I nearly pulled the trigger and bought one, but a couple of small concerns held me back.
My first concern was dropping from the Full Frame 22.3MP sensor of the Canon 5D Mark III to the 16MP crop sensor of the Fuji. My process involves a lot of post-production and the reduction in MP felt like two steps backward for one step forward. My second concern was a niggling feeling of why the XT-1 was so significantly discounted leading into Christmas. Sure enough, a post on fujirumours.com hinted at the announcement of the X-Pro2 with a 24mp X-Trans 3 sensor in January 2016. The slight bump in megapixels over the Canon was welcome news and I decided to wait and pre-order the X-Pro2 instead.
Fujifilm X-Pro2 Shot with Canon 5D Mark III
The X-Pro2 was due to come out early February which would be perfect timing for my move to New York City. Unfortunately, the release was delayed to early March so I spent most of February reading every article, every video, every review of the X-Pro2 that I could find. Daily google searches of “Fujifilm X-Pro2 uploaded within the past 24 hours” meant I had a pretty solid understanding of what to expect when the camera was to arrive as patterns started to emerge over the reviews. The welcome addition of dual SD memory card slots; the useability of the focus joystick; the universal love for the new Acros film simulation; the satisfyingly quiet but firm snap of the shutter; the improvement in high ISO performance, the proven hybrid viewfinder system (similar to that of the XT-1). I was ready for this camera.
Initially the rangefinder style of the X-Pro2 was somewhat daunting. Not that it was hard to use, or that the transition was difficult, it was just different. I suppose something must be said of the design & ergonomics that made the whole transition and experience seem natural and intuitive. I ventured out with the camera set to the Acros simulation and with the electronic viewfinder (EVF) on, and it only took a couple of shots to get in a groove with this camera. I was instantly loving everything I saw.
With the Acros simulation enabled you have a much more obvious and immediate indicator of the quality of light. The ability to see the light, void of colour, makes evaluating the quality of light in a scene a breeze. The bright focal points; the contrasting areas of light and dark; the separation of objects; the depth given by the shadows; it is all immediately apparent to your eye.
Not that colour should be ignored, but one would generally hope that the light in a colour image is also good enough to translate perfectly to a black and white image. This leads to my overwhelming feeling of my experience with this camera, CREATIVITY. Everything you do feels more creative and more measured, you work with more intent. Small things like the thirds overlay really forces you to find the composition with each photo, a visual reminder to think more about what you are doing with every click. I often find myself picking a nicely balanced composition and then slightly adjusting before firing so that key elements hit those third markers.
Something you don’t consciously realise is that even with the best DSLR’s and optical viewfinders, you are still guessing at the final result. How the light and colours are interpreted by the sensor, the exact cropping of the image, the overall brightness, it is all guesswork (even if you do get very good at it) until you hit play on the back of the camera or view them on a computer later. The EVF on the X-Pro2 shows you pretty much exactly what your photo will look like before you hit the shutter.
To be honest, I do not use the optical viewfinder at all, I don’t find the need. Perhaps I should force myself to go out and shoot all day with it to see if I’m missing something, but for the moment the EVF is more than fine for my style of work.
As many have mentioned, the Acros simulation is fantastic and I find myself shooting in this mode by default, switching to the standard ProVia or Velvia on the occasions that I think colour will be particularly important. The standard Provia simulation renders colours beautifully, particularly the greens/yellows compared to something like Canon’s/Adobe’s colour rendition. Of course when shooting landscapes and scenes with strong greens the Velvia simulation shines and Classic Chrome in industrial or city scapes for that muted look. Picking these film/colour simulations gets you thinking creatively on what feeling or mood you want to convey. Of course you may change this in post later but its presence brings the thought process forward and starts you making those decisions at the time of capture.
Fujifilm Colour Profiles – Produced from Lightroom
Of course shooting RAW to the first (and faster UHS-II) SD card slot and JPG to the second slot allows you to capture the JPG as you saw them with the camera filters/settings applied, and keeps all of the information of the RAW to make the most of later. Besides the few times I have upload a JPG straight out of camera, or sent them directly to the Fuji Instax printer, I have never really gone back and visited the JPG’s I have shot. In fact, I am going to change my write settings to shoot only RAW now.
I can definitely see why people are more than happy to shoot JPG on the X series of cameras, even if I personally still prefer to shoot RAW to develop/retouch every photo I shoot. If not for the hefty price tag, the camera would be perfect for someone who is a bit more into photography than your regular punter, but hasn’t committed fully to the point of shooting and editing RAW.
JPG Straight Out of Camera
JPG from Camera with Photoshop Editing
You can process your RAW files in camera, changing colour profiles, pushing or pulling the exposure, sharpening, adding noise etc. and then saving as a JPG. The only real limitation is the falloff on the highlight and shadow adjustments which is particularly terrible and I would not recommend doing anything drastic with those adjustments in camera. But if you need to upload something immediately whilst out shooting, it is nice to have those controls.
Speaking of the RAW, at the moment there aren’t any lens profiles for corrections in LR. As a result, the JPGs out of camera do have the slight advantage of having the distortion geometrically corrected and presumable some vignette removal too. With the RAW, Lightroom will tell you that a “Built-in Lens Profile” was applied, but when comparing to the camera produced JPG there is still some geometric distortion that the camera JPG seems better at dealing with. Lightroom is also incredibly slow at importing the RAW Fuji RAF files. After clicking “Import” it can literally take minutes before the first thumbnail is shown on screen (I have tested using both the normal RAW and compressed RAW file settings and they are both slow).
N.B. 9/06/2016 Adobe has updated LR 5.6 which seems to have improved import times.
As a side note, if you are shooting RAW, it would be a good idea to apply the ProVia camera calibration profile (or whatever profile you tend to use most of the time) as a default on import so that you have the benefit of always starting with Fuji’s beautiful colour rendition. I will provide a guide on how to do this in LR in the not too distant future.
The dynamic range is perfectly acceptable and the X-Pro 2 deals better with shadows, so if anything you are better off exposing to the left (underexposing) and then brightening in post, rather than recovering highlights. Coming from Canon (which is much better in recovering highlight data), there is something very satisfying about dragging the “Shadow” slider up to +80 and not seeing any terrible artefacts or noise.
Higher ISO performance is perfectly fine and what noise there is feels organic, more like the aesthetics of film. Files feel perfectly useable up to 5000 ISO, and I mean useable not that “oh it looks fine on your phone” useable. Colour rendition remains nice and skin tones don’t go waxy at high ISO as reported with some of the older X series cameras.
High ISO Files (1000 – 6400)
The AF does struggle a little in low light and with a CPL filter on. I personally haven’t had much experience with AF on anything other than the modern DSLR’s, so I can’t fully compare to the performance of similar mirrorless systems, but I find the AF ever so slightly lacking. The new lenses such as the 35mm 2.0 and 16mm 1.4 seem nice and snappy, but shooting with the 56mm 1.2 APD at a live event I found I had a higher “miss” rate when later evaluating the photos. With strong back light or low light situations, the focus can also hunt a little bit. This does appear to be more of an issue with this 56mm lens rather than the camera itself and I would assume all new lenses coming from Fuji to be more on par with the 16mm & 35mm performance.
N.B. 9/06/2016 the latest firmware update for the X-Pro2 and 35mm 2.0 apparently improves AF performance even more.
But when the AF hits, the images are super sharp; noticeably sharper than any of my prime Canon lenses (including the L series 50mm 1.2, 85mm 1.2 and 100mm Macro). There are also a swag of focus options to help with manual focusing. When manually focusing with the EVF there is an option to see a zoomed in version of the frame to better check and refine the focus. This kicks in as soon as you twist the focus ring and when combined with some of the Focus Peaking or Split Image focus options, you have a pretty good assortment of tools to really nail that focus.
The toggle for changing focus modes (Single Shot Auto, Continuous, Manual) is conveniently placed on the camera body and something I would like to see on all cameras. Within a matter of milliseconds, you can flip from large area, face finding auto focus to small, single point manual focus. Great for when you normally like to specifically pick your focus points but then want to quickly “spray and pray” from the hip at that interesting old person walking past you in the street. The focus joystick works well and sticks out enough to be functional but never really accidentally hit. Considering that a joystick has been a default on some of the “higher” end cameras for quite a while I was surprised this has been so talked about in the reviews. I feel this is definitely something that any respectable camera should have, and the X-Pro2 is after all Fuji’s top-of-the-line camera.
There is an “Eye Sensor” (read simple light sensor) to automatically switch between the EVF or LCD screen display when you bring the camera up to your eye. The only problem with the sensor is that it will flick off and on when the camera is swinging around your neck.
I usually have the camera set to EVF only with the Eye Sensor (no switching to LCD display) so that the live view will only show in the EVF and switch off when not in use. The playback of images in this mode will display on either the LCD or EVF if you have it up to your eye. The only improvement or option I would like would be the ability to view the menu on the LCD screen when in this display mode. It is a bit awkward when you spend a minute looking through the viewfinder of the camera adjusting menu settings and you then realise you have had it aimed at someone across from you on the train. But overall this screen setup works well and slightly helps in trying to conserve the precious battery power (more on this later).
The ability to change shutter speed, aperture and ISO with the camera turned off is great in preparing for a shot and also helps to conserve that battery life.
The shift of the buttons to the right of the camera seems to have worked well for the most part. I do find the AF-L and Q button on the grip of the camera awkward and unusable considering you are normally holding the camera by this grip. The AE-L button (which I have switched to AF-L for back button focusing) could be slightly better positioned. In my hand it feels like it would be better directly between its current position and the focus joystick, although this would start to get quite cramped. Again, you do get used to its position, but initially back button focusing didn’t feel as comfortable as the Canon DSLR’s.
Design wise, the only major downfall of the camera is the ISO dial. Whilst it looks all retro and cool, in reality it is fiddly, always in a different spot depending on your shutter speed setting and you will inevitably end up changing the shutter speed by accident. Yes, you do get better at adjusting the ISO dial over time and I don’t think it is a huge hindrance, but it still can’t help but feel a bit slower than how a dedicated dial or wheel would operate. The ability to lock off the shutter speed dial would have helped a little with this, yet it will only lock when in the “Auto” position.
As a mostly manual shooter, replacing the Exposure Compensation dial with a dedicated ISO dial would have been more advantageous, although the Exposure Compensation dial is easily knocked out of place (as is the dioptre adjustment). Perhaps the ability to switch these dials through software would be good, although I’m not sure the practicality of using a dial without the ISO markings.
But now, the biggest problem with the camera… the battery life. I wouldn’t expect a battery to last a quarter a day or a few hundred photos with moderate use. If I was shooting a commercial event I would want 6 spare batteries at minimum, just to be sure. I would highly recommend stocking your camera bag with extra Wasabi batteries from Amazon: Wasabi Batteries. Although not tested here, the Wasabi batteries are generally considered to be well made.
This might be starting to sound like a long laundry list of complaints but I guess that just comes with having something being so close to perfect that you can’t help but mention the short comings. Have I mentioned lately how much I love this camera?
Miscellaneous Photos Around NY
The camera for the most part feels great in the hand. I did notice in the early days that my pinkie finger would get quite sore and I realised I was supporting the weight of the camera with it in my right hand (probably due to getting less purchase on the smaller grip). With the 35mm 2.0 lens on, the camera is quite small and unassuming and I’ll happily carry it around to a dinner or Broadyway show without feeling like an idiot.
So what else do I love about this camera? Firstly, wireless control. Connecting the camera to a phone via WIFI allows you to control exposure, aperture and shutter speed which negates the need for purchasing a remote shutter (although the controls/app design could be much more user friendly). You can change focus by clicking on the live view (although there are slight lags with the display) and people will think you are looking at your phone rather than taking a picture. This allows the ability to take more candid photos of people without interrupting what is naturally taking place. Wirelessly connecting the camera to the Instax printer is also a great way to quickly give something to the people you shoot and meet on the street.
Shot via the WIFI function
Visually the camera looks great. I had read reviews with people raving about the good looks of the camera but I never quite “got” it. In photos it just looks like a black brick. In person the camera definitely looks the part, with a slight retro feel (I am often asked if it is a film camera) and the camera will often spark a conversation with some stranger on the street.
Overall the X-Pro2 isn’t perfect but it is definitely the most fun I have had with a camera (my Widelux F7 would be a close second, mostly for the novelty). The files are super sharp, the colours are beautiful and it changes my thought process when shooting. It is an absolute joy to shoot with I hardly ever leave the house without it. You can just tell they have listened to all of the feedback for their X Photographer beta testers, you can feel it whenever you use the camera, although they must have lost all the memo’s on that bloody ISO dial.
- Set your LR camera calibration defaults to ProVia (guide on this coming soon)
- Extra Batteries: Wasabi Power Battery (2 pack)
- Soft release buttons by: Artisan Obscura
- Tap & Die Strap: Legacy Strap
- Thumb Rest: by Lensmate
- Leather Half Case: Gariz Leather Cases
- Ona Bag The Bowery
- Fastest Tested Memory Card for X-Pro 2 – Lexar 2000x UHS-II (Amazon)
- Instax SP-1 Printer (wait for version 2 coming July 2016): Amazon
- For all your Fuji goss and products you didn’t know you needed: FujiRumours
- Firmware Updates: Fujifilm
- Remote shutter (for exposures longer than 30 seconds): Hanel Giga T Pro II
- Compact Tripod: Manfrotto BeFree (tip: the straight black carbon fibre version is the same as the regular carbon with red trim, but $30 cheaper)
Check out my article for more X series Tips & Tricks
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